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Landmarks Commission Shoots Down UWS Church-to-Condo Design

By Emily Frost | December 9, 2014 6:13pm
 The commission agreed the current changes are not appropriate for the landmarked church.
361 Central Park West
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A plan to convert a century-old church on Central Park West into condos was rejected Tuesday by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which pushed for the project architect to retain its original stained-glass windows.

The proposed design would have added 42 new windows to the landmarked stone building at 361 Central Park West, at West 96th Street, removed stained-glass windows and extended the height of the roof by 3 feet and 10 inches — changes the commission asked the architects to revise before it could lend its approval. 

"The applicant can go back to the drawing board and do a better job," concluded Commissioner Christopher Moore.

Other commissioners, including LPC chairowman Meenakshi Srinivasan, were especially uncomfortable with changes to the front of the church, which faces Central Park West. They worried about the proposed removal of defining features like its large stained-glass window and new windows breaking up its solid appearance. 

Moreover, the stained-glass windows could actually serve as a draw for condo buyers, they argued.

"There’s a desire to live in the city in all of its character… there would be an interest in living in non-conventional spaces," said Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron, pushing for the stained-glass windows to remain. 

Residents and landmarks advocates railed against the removal of the historic windows, which are original to the building.

The proposal by Li Saltzman Architects and GKV Architects represented "a cruel treatment” of the landmark, testified Kelly Caroll of the Historic Districts Council.

Max Yeston, representing the group Landmarks West, described the long windows the architects proposed adding to the south side as "a cold modernist intrusion that would be more appropriate for Lincoln Center."

Local resident Susan Brody described the long windows as "vertical gashes."

Earlier this month, Community Board 7 voted to approve the design plans, acknowledging that the conversion to condos was one way to preserve the building and stave off decay.

Commissioner Srinivasan shared that sentiment, observing Tuesday that "part of saving these buildings is that there are going to be some functional usage changes that can’t be avoided."

The developer needs approval from the city's Board of Standards and Appeals in addition to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to proceed.